The Scottish Butcher
Simon Howie is not easy to categorise. A trained butcher by trade, the company he is best known for under his own name supplies meat to supermarkets across the UK and also upmarket hotels like Gleneagles. He has taken his eponymous butchers business to new heights – in 2015 is turned over a massive £14.7m and make a profit of £2.5m before tax.
In this interview, he explains what has driven him to such successful heights.
Sitting in a modern, neatly laid out office on the outskirts of the picturesque Perthshire village of Dunning, he can look out on the lorries and vans coming to and from his meat processing factory where 110 of his employees work. Howie got a job in a large butcher’s shop in Perth when he was just 12. He now owns that shop and another one in Auchterarder. He started out on his own in business when he was just 19 with his own butcher’s shop in Dunning in 1986. As the business grew it started to supply hotels and restaurants. His big breakthrough was winning work from Gleneagles Hotel, which is just five miles away.
Howie decided the butchery business needed to move from being shop orientated to moving into factory premises and in 1994 bought the farm where he is now based and built a small factory. Getting into supermarkets was the big watershed for Howie. The breakthrough came in 1999 when he was invited to supply Sainsbury’s with haggis. “They said they would take 3000 and they took 30,000 that year,” he says. “So we realised the power of the supermarkets could bring something big to our elbow.”
He then had discussions about using the Simon Howie brand within the Sainsbury’s supermarkets for over-the-counter butchery sales. “I promised them I could double their over-the-counter sales overnight and we did. “We did two trial stores for them in Edinburgh and the butchery counter doubled in turnover as soon as we started and they gave us the rest of the then 20-strong estate in Scotland. It essentially rocketed us to the top of the class and we were seen as being much bigger than we actually were and had loads of profile.
“The bosses in Sainsbury’s were using us as a case study up and down the country – don’t forget it is a 700-store business. It was a big deal for us. We were rolled out as the clever boys. What we were doing was giving them decent availability, getting the right products there and charging the right price and making it look a bit special.
“Crucially it gave us a presence in the supermarket sector and it was a very credible presence. This was us running a big part of their business under our name and our rules. But what it did crucially was, it opened the other supermarkets up to what is this Simon Howie crowd all about.”
By 2001 Howie products were also in Safeway stores – later Morrisons – and after that it was taken up by Tesco and Asda.
A 10,000 sq ft extension to the packing hall is currently being built which will take the Dunning factory’s total size to 70,000 sq ft. One of the reasons for the expansion is the company’s new website ordering service, which was set up in response to constant requests from customers seeking certainty about the provenance of the meat they eat.
The factory has a number of main operations – de-boning, slicing and dicing; curing bacon and kitchen ready products as well as making sausages, burgers and puddings.
This success has led to further business enterprise in seemingly unrelated industries. “I want businesses that stimulate me. I want challenges that are achievable but by the very word they are challenging. The only million that matters is the first million. After that it is keeping yourself out of trouble and doing things that excite you.”
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